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The Red Dupatta

The girl, whose parents were not talking to her, was trying to figure out an easy way to kill herself. Poisoning was the most popular, even in her Bailey Road neighborhood in Patna. Three girls in three years. Just grab some pesticide and go to sleep with practically no drama. But burning was faster. Turn to ashes instantly. Just pour kerosene over your clothes, light a match and boom. Of course, the flames and smoke might attract some overzealous government guard eager to please her mother or father. Then the fire would stop before she fully experienced the luxury of burning. She might just end up charred. Missing eyebrows. Splotchy skin. Laughing, she played with her interlocked fingers, pacing from her shut bedroom door to the barred side window, and jammed her head against the corroded bars. The flaking rust gave off a tangy scent.

A gust of wind ululated over the congested road and threatened to dethrone the cutout image of the chief minister, Laloo Yadav, atop a billboard. The gust flung sand at her. With the electricity off as usual in their backward state capital, must she wear her red dupatta in layers around her neck? She thrashed her hair and face with the end of the dupatta, circulating sand, tasting it on her lips.

Poisoning offered the tempting possibility of a death stolen right under everyone’s nose. No one would discover her body ’til the next morning. Her parents rarely appeared upstairs during the day, not even on Sundays—not unless they had to change or take a bath or get money out of the steel almirah. Even if they did, they wouldn’t set foot in her room. Even her younger brother stayed downstairs with their parents. The cleaning maid would find her body Monday morning when she burst in to sweep with the coconut broom, sari hitched up to the knees. Or would the girl be still alive then, groaning, penitent, suffering an embarrassing death? Unpredictability was poisoning’s undoing.

What did her classmate Tanuja choose? One day last year, Tanuja helped everyone create a Hotmail account soon after the appearance of computers in classrooms at Notre Dame. And the next day, April 4th, 1994, the principal, who prescribed honesty like vitamins, announced, “Unfortunately, our dear friend Tanuja passed away after a brief illness.”

Outside, a security guard wearing dark glasses, walkie-talkie in hand, spat and shouted, “Chalo, chalo—move,” ordering a rickshaw puller and a man with a bindle to hightail it and stop blocking the main gate of her parents’ cement brick bungalow. The green security tent pitched on the front lawn flapped in the wind, collapsing, ballooning, exposing two guards playing cards, a kerosene stove, and clothes piled high on a chair. Over the moaning wind rose the loud, anxious clamor of the temple bell and conch shell from the small Shiva temple that stood beside the dry well overgrown with weeds.

Why did she need to talk to her parents? Didn’t she talk to the cooking maid and the cleaning maid? She did. But words flew out of her mouth without registering as sound when her parents stopped talking to her. Their silences drowned all sounds. She must kill herself to prove silence was not nothing, which is what they seemed to believe. She wound and unwound the dupatta around her neck, wondering if she was responsible for their silences, if the silences were avoidable, if she could have done something to prevent them.

Two Sundays ago, the girl heard the driver honk, alerting the guards and the cooking maid that the mother was home. When the girl peeped into the dining space beside the stairwell and breathed in the scents of mosquito repellant, cooked rice and hot curry, she knew her mother was not in a good mood by her hand movements—swift, neat, and jagged. She had a difficult job, working as a bureaucrat in a backward place, dealing with all sorts of cunning, crooked businessmen, slothful staff and illiterate politicians who put her in a bad mood. And she, like any ordinary woman, any ordinary housewife, was also responsible for household chores. Even the girl, fourteen, didn’t help her mother just because her younger brother, thirteen, a son, didn’t—wasn’t expected to—help.

The younger brother, slouched on a dining chair, clanked a spoon against his steel plate. The father, occupying two dining chairs, resting his back on one and his legs on another, read the newspaper, crinkling in the breeze of the ceiling fan.

“I hate it when you put so much haldi in daal,” the mother told the cooking maid.

The cooking maid, who often said how grateful she was to be able to feed her three unemployed sons, three daughters-in-law, and seven grandchildren courtesy of this job, tittered as she arranged steel bowls on the dining table.

“Just today morning I reminded you to not put too much haldi,” the mother said and tsked, wielding the saltshaker over the salad of sliced onions, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Unwilling to appear on her mother’s radar, the girl rushed to hide behind the dining table. The mother squeezed a mango, which she’d picked out from a plastic bag full of mangoes on the table, then looked vaguely in the direction of the girl, who caught sight of the tip of her mother’s hardening nose. To end her conspicuous walk, the girl squeezed herself into the narrow gap between the tabletop and a chair, diagonally across from her father and younger brother.

The younger brother looked at the girl, who could barely fit, and laughed.

The mother indicated her younger son with her head as the maid bounded to the table with a ladleful of seasoning—red chilli and sputtering cumin seeds in hot mustard oil.

“Can’t you see he is hungry? The way he is beating his spoon. Why can’t you finish earlier? What were you doing ’til now?” A gust of wind through the screen door ushered in the scent of roses and green mangoes from the yard.

The cooking maid said, “Sorry, madam. I had to go out with Anita.”

The girl sat up at the mention of Anita. She was the cooking maid’s married daughter who’d abandoned her husband’s home and returned to her mother’s. Recently, she’d confided in the girl she would rather commit suicide than move back in with her husband and in-laws.

“Anita is still here?” the mother asked. “Didn’t you tell her to go? She can’t be such a queen that she will run to her mother after every fight with her husband. You need to make her understand. A girl’s home is her husband’s home. You have a large family of your own. Three sons, daughters-in-law…none of them work. Does Anita remember you paid a dowry for her?”

The younger brother smirked at the girl, which made her angry and reminded her of the morning incident. He’d slipped into her room and grabbed her multicolored pen after she refused to lend it for fear he might break or lose it. When she yowled and asked him to return it, he said, “Everything here belongs to me. The chair, the table, the books, even the bed you sleep on, even the room you happily call your own. You will get married and leave.”

“And it’s not as if the in-laws are torturing Anita,” the mother said. “The husband slapped her once. Is that the end of the world?”

The father pointed his finger at a section of the newspaper with the headline, Young woman, 20, burnt to death by in-laws after refusing to sweep.

“I’ve met Anita’s husband and in-laws,” he said. “Very nice people. If they were regular Bihari people, they would beat her every day, considering how stubborn and lazy she is.”

The cooking maid cackled, agreeing, and served everyone chicken while moths hurled themselves against the large bulb on the wall.

“I’m worried for you, my dear,” the father told the girl. “Even you are so arrogant, lazy, and stubborn. Don’t want you to end up being another newspaper article: another girl killed by in-laws.”

“If you are worried for her, then you should stop my-dearing her,” the mother said.

The approaching phat-phat of slippers could be heard, followed by the soft voice of Mohana, the mother’s official driver. “Car keys, madam.”

“My God!” the mother said. “Can’t you leave it on the table? Everybody has to call me for every stupid little thing. Madam, this. Madam, that. Madam, car keys. Madam, sweets. Madam, needle. Madam, thread. I am the servant of this house. I have to take care of everything. Including car keys. The others just sit and do nothing.” The mother’s gaze hung over the girl, who was just sitting, not serving, not helping in any way.

Mohana tiptoed into the dining room, as if silencing the phat-phat of his cracked rubber slippers, dropped the car keys on the corner table and scampered out the door.

The mother shifted closer to the table and served ladlefuls of daal. As she poured some into a bowl for the girl, her eyes seemed to hit on something. Suddenly, her arm cut through the air as she pointed the glinting ladle at the girl. “Why is she sitting that way again?”

The younger son laughed.

The girl froze—her face and body seemed caught in a net that foiled the movement of her muscles. The mother had told her how to sit, showed her how to sit, multiple times. But the girl tended to sit on a chair with half her body facing forward and the remaining half, the legs, twisted at ninety degrees to the top, as if she sat temporarily, ready to decamp at any moment.

“She is fourteen,” the mother reminded everyone. “She doesn’t know how to sit.” She dropped three rotis on her son’s plate and flung two more toward the girl’s. Another three struck the father’s plate. “How many times do I have to teach her?”

The girl straightened her legs and peed a little in her underwear.

“Why is it so difficult to learn to sit?” the mother asked her younger son, who chuckled in reply and bit into a chicken leg. The mother thwacked a dollop of potato and peas curry on the girl’s plate. “You won’t be able to live with anyone, I guarantee that. You stubbornly refuse to help. Stubbornly refuse to learn anything. What husband will want to live with you?”

The newspaper crackled as the father, at the head of the dining table, lowered it and appeared to check what his wife had said. But then he saw it was nothing—just his wife shouting at his daughter—and continued eating, reading.

The girl ripped a bit of roti, scooped up subji, potato and peas curry, and some tomato chutney, and stuffed the humongous bite into her mouth.

The mother’s hands shook as she poured water from the jug, making the stream jiggle. “At fourteen, my grandmother cooked for a large family. You will see how difficult life is when no one agrees to live with you.”

The girl, fearing a massive leak of urine, masticated the dry, solid lump and tried to ram it down into her food pipe, but there was no saliva. The ball refused to budge. She snapped up another bit of roti, dropped some potato curry on it, and thrust it on top of the lump ’til her cheeks bulged out. It was impossible to chew.

“As if I don’t have enough problems,” the mother said, “dealing with cheats and scamsters. Crises. Violence. Students beating up teachers. Unions going on strikes. Then, what do I have to do when I come home? I have to teach a fourteen-year-old how to sit!”

The girl realigned her position on the chair, precipitating another leak.

“Did you read this?” The father waved the crinkling paper to catch his wife’s attention. “How much government money Manesar is distributing in his district for his own reelection?”

The mother laughed. “Unfortunately, ministers have only one goal: to hold on to power.”

For the rest of the dinner, she didn’t look at the girl, a clear signal she was done talking to her. The girl’s senses deadened; her heart seemed to stagger and fall.

On Bailey Road, a minivan nearly killed a woman as it sped past her, missing her by inches. Her head wedged between two window bars, the girl wondered how it might look if a van carved a trench through her body, if her red intestines plopped onto the cracked, hot road with a layer of fine dust. In seconds, the heat would congeal her blood into brown lumps that would hang like the burrknot deformations she saw on trees in science class.

The phone rang. She crossed her room and unlocked the door, which she liked to lock when the younger brother was at home to prevent him flying in. What if one of her teachers called? Although, why would they when it was summer and school was off? Sometimes they needed help from her mother or her father, who was a district magistrate. Even if they called, would her mother resume talking to the girl? Yes, she might. One time she was not talking to the girl, but then the grandmother called and wanted to speak to her. “Your Nani wants to talk to you,” the mother bellowed from the drawing room. And the silence ended, just like that.

The girl, on the top stairwell landing, leaned over the cement railing draped with her mother’s saris, the gold and red sari with a paisley print and another deep yellow one she’d recently purchased, and several of her father’s shirts in various shades of blue and black.

The phone stopped ringing. In the diffused light pouring down the stairwell window, the clothes exuded vaporous reels smelling of starch. Water dripped and trickled in streams down the stairs. The mother said, “We are really backwards. We need to have a better way to manage depression in youth and recognize early warning signs.”

The girl realized the call was about the dead girl-student from Nalanda Medical College—the one who’d stood on a stool, tied her neck to the fan with her dupatta and kicked the stool away. Everyone knew how she died because a college staff member, peeping through a keyhole, saw the girl-student’s legs thrashing the air ’til her eyes bulged out of her face and the tip of her tongue got caught between her lips. The dusty old fan danced while the body and limbs twisted and untwisted, so her eyebrows, eyelashes and even her shoulders were all covered in dust. Even before the suicide, the principal of the college knew the student was depressed and pregnant with the child of a boy who’d abandoned her, which is why the parents filed a case of negligence against the principal.

On the rectangular floor of the stairwell landing, the girl played a game she loved, walking toe-to-heel, no gap in between steps, her arms outstretched, holding the ends of her dupatta.

Three days after the mother stopped talking to the girl, her uncle dropped by with his second daughter, Tejasvini, and his one-year-old grandson. In the drawing room, the girl’s younger brother, who loved to deliver Hindi movie dialogues, belted out one from Shahenshah in Amitabh Bachchan’s grandiloquent style. “Rishte main to hum tumhare baap lagte hain. Naam hai Shahenshah—I’m your dad. My name is Shahenshah.” After Tejasvini praised the younger brother’s performance, the father told the girl, “You should spend time with Tejasvini while she is here for the next two weeks. Go to her house in the evenings. Learn stitching and cooking. She knows everything. Very talented. I will ask the driver to take you.”

The girl eyed her younger brother, who didn’t need to learn stitching or cooking, and dragged her chappals back and forth on the cement floor to make a screechy noise.

The younger brother, playing with the baby boy, said, “Papa, she doesn’t want to learn.”

The father explained, “Every girl needs to learn. Your mother does not cook nowadays. When she was young, when my marriage was arranged to her, oh, she knew. For the first ten years we barely had a servant. She took care of everything. What a devoted woman she was back then.” He smiled. “Then she became an IAS officer. Has no time now. Still she takes care of everything, doesn’t she? When I try to arrange your marriage, people will ask, ‘Can your daughter cook?’ What man will want to marry a girl who doesn’t know how to clean or cook? And even after marriage, in-laws will make demands. Have you heard about Tejasvini’s older sister?”

The girl shook her head.

The father said, “Tejasvini’s older sister is a saint. Her in-laws, my God, I have seen them. So cruel. They make her cook three times a day even though the house is full of servants. Fresh rotis for every meal. And she sweeps the entire house. Washes clothes. Takes care of children. Massages her mother-in-law’s feet. Has anyone ever heard her complain? No. She never complains. Is always smiling.”

Elements of the story didn’t add up in the girl’s mind—she had a feeling that her father had employed a simplistic version of it to prove a point. An embarrassed chuckle slipped out of her lips.

The father, glowering, veered to Tejasvini. “I’m very, very impressed by all of you.” As the cooking maid handed him the phone, he attended to a call regarding a section of their town about to explode in riot, all thanks to ideologies expounded by religious leaders.

When Tejasvini and her family were out the door, the father said, “You think you can be rude in front of guests. I’ll beat you so hard that all your bones will break.”

That was eleven days ago, the last she heard from him.

The girl quit playing toe-to-heel and fanned herself with the red dupatta, hotfooting back and forth on the stairwell landing. Weren’t there easy ways to begin talking? Really easy ways. For example, she could go to her parents and say something. She didn’t even have to say sorry. Any sentence might suffice. She wouldn’t need to fashion a complex, an interrogative or an exclamatory sentence. A simple declarative sentence might work just as well. “Anita doesn’t like her husband and in-laws.” Or, “It is hot.” Or, “Hopefully, monsoons will be here soon.” Her parents might end up responding, and that would be the end of it. Near the edge of the landing, she misstepped, lost her balance. As her arm hooked a pier cap, her body swung, and her head bumped against the solid balustrade.

Didn’t she know her parents were only trying to help her, ensure she wouldn’t get murdered by in-laws? And they didn’t know what silence was.

What if she caught a rickshaw to Patna’s famous Ganga Ghat, tied a few bricks to the dupatta and sank to the river’s bottom? It wouldn’t be fun, serving as fish food in the muddy waters and floating up all swollen and ugly. As if she were so pretty she needed to look ugly in death. Already she looked like someone designed in a lab—too tall, shoulders too broad, forehead too squarish. Even her hair was too long, too thick, too black and made uglier still by her braiding it in sticks.

The phone rang again. “Princeton, Vikash!” the mother said. The call was from the girl’s older brother, who’d been waiting to hear from colleges in America. In a bit, the mother said, “Why are you worrying about scholarship money, Vikash? Let’s celebrate Princeton.”

The father said, “Congratulations, beta. You see, you were unnecessarily worried. I told you. Didn’t I tell you?” He laughed. “Don’t think about it, son. You are my eldest. How many sons do I have? Just two. Will I let your admission go for a waste for want of money? No, no, my dear. We’ll find a way. True, we don’t have much money. Your mother and I are not bribe-takers. We are dead honest. Have only our salaries. I can’t sell ancestral land or houses…true, true. So, what? We will find a way. Don’t worry.”

Perhaps, the mother grabbed the phone back. “Okay. Go, go. Your friends are waiting. Go.” She laughed. “Which cinema?” she asked before cutting the call.

The girl felt both an urge to pee and a desire to see her parents. She must pretend to not know. Then her mother might say, “Did you hear? Vikash is going to Princeton.” The girl hurried into her room to use the bathroom. Afterward, she spruced up in front of the sink mirror—combed her hair, smoothed her crumpled white cotton kurta and tidied the red dupatta. Then she barreled down the stairs, her dupatta brushing the wet clothes, as if she were thirsting for ice-cold water from the fridge because it was so hot and the electricity was off. Twining the dank dupatta over her wrist, she turned to the kitchen and snatched an empty steel glass from the mounted dishrack. At the entrance to the main hall, which was the drawing-cum-dining room with the fridge in a corner, she paused and peeped inside.

What a shock was the sight of her parents, sprawled on the drawing room sofas, as if they were fictional characters who’d suddenly come to life. How handsome and powerful they looked. Her father lounged on the long sofa with his feet on the center table, and her mother on the sofa chair facing the air cooler powered by an inverter. The younger brother couldn’t see the girl as he sat on a chair opposite the windows. “Is Princeton Ivy League?” he asked.

“Yes, of course,” the father said, running his fingers through his hair.

The mother bent forward and grabbed a handful of nuts from a glass serving bowl with three divisions, replenished regularly by the cooking maid with fried peanuts, raw cashews and raisins.

The girl, still in the doorframe, wiped her face with the red dupatta.

“I can’t believe my eldest son will leave this country where our ancestors have lived for thousands of years,” the father said. “Will go to America!” He sighed. “I hope there is someone to cremate me when I die.” He stretched his body, trying to reach his younger son, who was a little too far, and caressed his cheeks. “My dear son, now you will be the only one in India. If you fail me, then…God.” He sprang back, joined his hands and shook his head. “I will be like one of those people whose bodies rot because they don’t have a son to cremate them. People have to find neighbors. ‘Anyone willing to cremate him?’”

The girl rushed toward the fridge, a housefly droning near her ears. Although alert, as if on a stage, she crashed into a dining chair on her way. To end the awkward derailment, she wrenched the fridge door open and buried her head inside it, assessing the bottles of water stacked in a line.

The mother said, “At least on your side of the family your sisters have sons. But on my side!”

The girl snapped up the coldest steaming bottle and poured water into the steel glass, watching droplets condense on the outside surface. She put the bottle back, shut the fridge and gulped the water down, the housefly whizzing in front of her eyes.

“Ma always wanted Vikash to cremate her,” the mother said.

“Now Vikash is off. To America,” the father said. “Your sisters are at fault. Couldn’t they have a third? But they all stopped at two. I, even though my first was a son, had a third, because I wanted two.”

The girl stole a sideways glance at her parents and saw her mother wipe something off her lips, perhaps salt, or was it the skin of a nut? Her father’s hands dug into his belly fat. The girl decided to have some more water, opened the fridge again and poured another glass. Fresh condensation. A trickle on the outer steel surface ran down her palm. She reeled toward her parents without looking at them and drank. Galluppp. Galluppp. Galluppp. A girl was a burden because her parents must save a dowry for her and useless because she couldn’t cremate. No one loved or wanted girls.

When she thought her belly might pop if she downed one more drop, she placed the dirty glass on the table and whirled to go back upstairs to her room. It occurred to her that Tanuja must have feasted on poison, given the mystery surrounding her death. Everybody would know if she plummeted from a roof or hurled herself in front of a train. The girl changed course—dashed into the kitchen then slipped into the hot, dark, windowless storeroom with the housefly humming right above her head. She almost bumped into the cooking maid, stretched out on a chatai for her afternoon nap. In the light from the door, enveloped in the moldy stench, the girl scanned the rat and cockroach killers stacked on the second rack, then leaned over the cooking maid and snatched an opaque orange glass bottle with a partially ripped label that said, Chuha marne ki dawa—a medicine to kill rats. The irony of the sentence made the girl laugh. She snapped the door shut, trapping the buzzing housefly in the storeroom.

How long before the poison worked? The label offered no useful information. The bottle in the folds of her red dupatta, she hastened up the stairs and accidentally knocked her father’s navy blue shirt off the railing. She spread it back and stood still for a moment, watching light swim on the steamy clothes. Suddenly disgusted by the obnoxious, throbbing silence of her heart and the ear-splitting silence of her breath, she ran up. She must end it quickly.

As she darted into her room, the electricity was back—the fan whirred with a sudden thuk. Outside the side window, a security guard poured water from a plastic bottle over his head to cool himself. The tent flapped as if it was about to take off. Street urchins chased each other in circles on the shoulder of the road. But the scene—the green tent flapping wildly, boys playing, sun blazing, vegetable vendors, guards—didn’t seem real. It didn’t belong to her. The world was a desert ravaged by sandy winds and peopled by blind men and women who couldn’t see she stood there with a squirmy thing in her chest.

She secured her diary, the one that said “OPC Cement 1995” on its cover, from behind her textbooks. She sat at the sheesham desk, placed the poison on the tabletop and started writing. The last thing she wanted was for her death to be a waste, for people to attribute it to some stupidity like love or pregnancy.

She wrote: Silence is edgeless. There isn’t anything to hold on to here. A formless, undefined, subterranean space. None of the textbooks or novels can prepare you for silence. It isn’t just the absence of sound, but also the presence of fear. It is solitary confinement. No beginning and no end.

Silence is also elevating. It almost makes me poetic. She laughed, then cried. The bottle in hand, she stood up and sat on the bed awkwardly, hips sunk in the mattress, knees strung over the footboard, legs dangling in the air. She unscrewed the cap and sniffed. The milky potion had a sweet smell. A chill ran through her as she imagined the moment her parents discovered her body.

A noise. Straining her neck, she saw the street urchins railing at each other, stacking up stones to build a tower. A barefoot boy aimed a stone at the tower to topple it. Suddenly, something appeared behind the boys: a family—a man, his wife, two sons and a daughter about the same age as the girl. She recognized the man—Mr. Achutharaman, her parents’ colleague who was transferred to Patna recently from Tamilnadu. The family advanced forward too slowly, as if the world were endless and time abundant. The stone tower toppled. Two security guards greeted the man, who nodded and smiled. As the guards unlatched the gate and the family stepped onto the brick pavement leading to the main door of the bungalow, a shudder of pleasure and horror coursed through the girl’s body.

A flurry of activity. The mother summoned the cooking maid so she might serve the guests. Seconds later, the cooking maid hollered in the stairwell, exhorting the girl to hurry down and receive Mr. Achutharaman’s daughter.

“Coming,” the girl said and hid the bottle in a drawer.

In the drawing room, all eyes were riveted on the younger brother delivering a popular bit of dialogue from Sholay: “Gabbar se keh dena ki Ramgarhwalon ne paagal kutton ke saamne roti daalna band kar diya hai—Tell Gabbar that the people of Ramgarh have stopped offering food to mad dogs.” The girl, standing behind the long sofa, laughed and clapped along when the performance concluded. The cooking maid, hustling about the drawing room serving mango slices, biscuits and spicy mixture, eyed the girl. “You have a new friend in your class. Achutharamanji’s daughter, Harini.”

The father and the mother looked at the girl. The father said, “You should show her around.”

Eager to talk, the girl said, “I will introduce her to all my friends.”

Mrs. Achutharam said, “Yes, please. Harini barely talks. But she is really looking forward to Notre Dame. Likes the school a lot. The one thing she doesn’t like is the red uniform.”

“Even she doesn’t like it,” the mother said and smiled at the girl, who smiled shyly back. “But the red won’t get dirty easily. That is one benefit.”

Eight months and ten days later, on Feb 7th, 1996, the girl drank rat poison. In those eight months and ten days, she’d attempted suicide thirteen times—dug out the bottle from where she hid old diaries, behind her clothes in the bottommost rack of her almirah. Two failed attempts on the same day. When she finally lifted the bottle to her lips, post dinner with her parents in the dining space next to the stairwell, she drank the liquid slowly, disregarding its bitterness. What gave her courage were the sounds blasting off the Shiva temple—the frantic beating of the clapper against the lip and the sonorous moan of the conch shell. Afterward, she swallowed two tablets of Valium (total 10mg), discovered in her parents’ room a week before, to safeguard against a panic attack. Then she wrote in her diary and went to sleep.

The strangest thing happened. She woke up feeling fine—except for a minor headache. Perhaps the poison was as spurious as everything else in Patna. She changed into her school uniform, ran down and saw the cooking maid, who wore a sheepish smile, sharing the news that Anita had returned to her in-laws. The girl plodded to the bus stand, where she chitchatted with Harini and waited a few minutes before boarding the school bus—packed as usual with red-skirted, overwrought girls. After school, she felt nauseous and dizzy while she sat at her desk writing and decided to lie down on the bed.

According to the police report, a maid found the girl unconscious at around six in the evening, a blob of dried blood hanging over the trough of her upper lip. The maid had gone looking for the girl after receiving a call from her grandmother, who wanted to speak to her. Within minutes, the girl was rushed to a hospital, where she survived another eighteen hours, ’til 12:05 p.m. the next day.


Shambhavi Roy was a 2020 finalist in the Chester B. Himes Memorial Short Fiction Contest and a semifinalist in the Stories That Need to be Told Contest sponsored by Tulip Tree. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oyster River Pages, Chapter House/Mud City Journal, BlazeVOX and others.


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